What is the difference between the following sentences:

Мой папа в командировке.
У меня папа в командировке.

How can I explain to foreign students when to use "мой" or "у меня"?


Well, the first thing that kind of stands out to me is that 'у меня' can mean 'I have', while 'мой' would not convey that meaning on its own. For example:

У меня конфликт с моим начальником.

This statement sounds complete. It reports the fact of the existence of some conflict between the speaker and his boss in the present time.

Мой конфликт с моим начальником

This statement is incomplete. It doesn't report any message. In fact, it doesn't report anything. It only names a certain phenomenon - a conflict of a speaker with his boss - however, we know nothing about it. We don't know whether this conflict has started, is still going on or is already over. We know nothing about how big this conflict was (is, has been, or will be). We don't even know whether it is really a phenomenon (something having its place in the objective reality) or simply a concept in the speaker's mind (like in "Иногда пытаюсь представить себе, каким бы мог быть мой конфликт с моим начальником, если бы он мог произойти").

Another difference that comes to my mind is that 'мой' cannot modify a personal pronoun, while 'у меня' can. For example:

– Да пудов этак пять

Или шесть:

Больше ему не съесть,

Он у меня ещё маленький!

(Not 'Он мой ещё маленький'!)

The same is true about possessive adjectives ('мамин', 'папин', 'сестрин', 'дедушкин', etc.). For example:

Я у мамы – вместо швабры.

(Not 'Я мамин – вместо швабры')

Also, 'у меня' can simply mean 'at my house', in which case it may not at all mean 'мой'. For example:

Ты сейчас где? Всё ещё универмаге! Давай скорее! Твой друг уже у меня.

(Not 'Твой друг уже мой', which could meаn a totally different thing :) )

One more thing, 'у меня', 'у тебя', 'у ниx' and so on, can mean 'in my/your/their thinking' or 'in my/your/their understanding' or 'in my/your/their own little world', in other words, can describe how someone treats something else or somebody else. In this case it does not describe possession at all. For example, compare:

Не присылай мне больше своиx консультантов. Твои консультанты - сплошные невежды.


Я знаю, как ты относишься к консультантам. У тебя консультанты - сплошные невежды по определению.

In the first sentence the speaker is stating the fact that the consultants are ignorant, while in the second sentence he seems to be even defending consultants. In the first sentence consultants belong to the one to whom the speaker is talking, while in the second sentence the person to whom the speaker is talking (interlocutor) may not have, i.e. possess, any consultants at all (in the first sentence, the speaker is talking only about those consultants that belong to his interlocutor, while in the second sentence he is talking about all consultants).

Finally, 'у меня', can describe a certain situation that the speaker has or is experiencing at the moment, while using 'мой' would not have such a connotation. Compare the following examples:

– Все мы знаем, где наши родители, и только про твоего папу, Джейн, никому ничего не известно. Где он сейчас? Возможно, что где-нибудь на какой-нибудь выставке, а возможно, что и в каком-нибудь баре...

Мой папа в командировке, и вообще-то это не ваше дело.

– Джейн, мы завтра идём в поxод. Пойдёшь с нами?

– К сожалению, нет.

– А что так?

У меня папа в командировке. Маме нужна моя помощь. Ей тяжело будет одной.

In the second example, the speaker is introducing and describing her particular situation that she is presenting as a reason why she cannot go hiking. In the first example, however, the fact that the speaker's father is on the business trip is not being presented or described as a particular situation.


My answer reflects only my limited understanding of the matter and in no way should be taken as a comprehensive description of it.

  • 1
    Some illiterate native speakers often say something like У меня у отца классный пёс instead of У моего отца классный пёс and it sounds awful. – КуЪ Dec 19 '12 at 15:02

There is no difference in the meaning of the two sentences:

Мой папа в командировке.
У меня папа в командировке.

In both cases, the meaning is that my dad is away on business.

There is, however, a slight difference in focus between the two. In the first case, the main focus of the sentence is папа - he is away on business; oh, and he happened to be my dad.

Мой папа - в коммандировке[, а моя мама - дома]

In the second sentence, words у меня shift the focus onto myself: I have this dad, who happened to be away on business:

У меня папа в коммандировке[, а у него - вообще безработный]

The best English analogues of the two sentences I can think of are (respectively):

My dad is away on business
As for me, my dad is away on business

  • 1
    I think that it is fine to say "у меня папа в командировке, а мама - дома". – Olga Aug 30 '12 at 19:54
  • 1
    It is, but the translation will still start with "As for me," in this case. – fedja Aug 26 '13 at 20:39

In this particular case, there is actually no difference how to say it:


Его мама на работе

У неё мама на работе

В данном случае речь идёт о конкретной (единственной) маме.

Мама чья? Его (и только его).

У кого есть мама? У неё (и только у неё).

One more example:

Их собака сдохла

У них собаха сдохла

Опять же, речь о конкретной собаке.

Собака чья? Их (и только их).

У кого есть собака? У них (и только у них).

And more:

Брат Ильи - сантехник

У Ильи брат - сантехник

И снова - конкретный брат.

Брат чей? Ильи (и только Ильи).

У кого есть брат? У Ильи (и только у Ильи).

Generally, where you can use "мой", you can use "у меня" as well.

Other example:

У меня нет денег - I don't have any money

У кого нет денег? У меня.

In case of negation, sometimes you can't change phrase.

  • +1 for this one, indeed the main test is whether this sentence is an answer to the question "у кого есть". – shabunc Aug 20 '12 at 19:58

The first one conveys the meaning that there is only one father (the father) while the second does not convey such meaning.

Since people typically have only one father, the sentences are interchangeable.

But if you said about a dog or about a sister, the sentences would have different meaning.

Моя сестра заболела = My sister is ill (that is the only sister)

У меня сестра заболела = A sister of mine is ill (there can be one or several sisters)

You cannot say "Моя сестра заболела" if you have several sisters and it is not clear about which one you are speaking about.


This is a very interesting question. Thanks Olga!

While the construction "Мой папа ..." has a direct corresponding translation into English to "My father...", the second one is more specific to Russian.

The question slightly "blurred" by the fact that in both Russian phrases the verb is missing and understood. It would be the English verb is. The meaning of the two phrases is also very similar. Apart from that grammatically phrases are very different.

The first phrase is a simple (usual) sentence with a subject (my father), a verb (is), and the rest. The second phrase is an impersonal construction. The most direct correspondence to this in English will be "It is ..." or "There is ..." constructions.

A у нас в квартире газ. - And there is natural gas in our apartment.
У меня нет денег. - There is no money in my possession.

Moreover (similar Russian construction in dative case):

Им этого не понять. - It is not possible to understand for them.
Ему этого не дано. - It is not given to him.

And finally, one more (and probably the biggest) complication is that "у меня", "у нас", "у них" does not have a direct correspondence in English. The direct meaning correspondence would be "in my(our,their) world" (including both internal and external worlds). Or in other words: "In my current circumstances." Of course you will not translate it like this literally. Every time you will need to invent something more suitable for English like "there is no money in my possession". Or just flip the phrase into ordinary sentence with personal subject, if other translations are completely ugly.

У меня папа в командировке.
There is no my dad in my world right now (absent on business trip). [Too ugly]
Or simply: My dad is absent on business trip. [Flipped to personal subject]

So in conclusion: It is just a coincidence that Мой папа в командировке and У меня папа в командировке - are translated into the same phrase in English. For example: У меня нет денег is not switchable to personal so easily (maybe: My money is absent :-)). The difference in the meaning is like in English phrases: "It is sunny" vs "The sun is shining". In the first, you describe the situation as a whole in general (does not matter who acts, but it matters what mood it creates). In the second you describe the object and its action.

  • Thank you for the thorough explanation of the grammatical structure of the sentences with "у меня". However, you have rather answered how to form and translate such sentences, rather then when to choose one or another. – Olga Oct 14 '12 at 16:07
  • @Olga: I guess if you want to talk about yourself (focus on how something affects you), you use "у меня". If you want to talk about something in your surroundings which happens to be yours (focus on it, not on you), you use "мой". I agree in this with Alex G. Also see my edit in the end of my answer... – farfareast Oct 14 '12 at 17:56
  • @Olga: Also "у меня/у него..." phrase is more colloquial. In everyday speech we can say "у него отец в командировке" but from a police protocol we expect "его отец в командировке". – farfareast Oct 15 '12 at 13:23

I think the difference is in the emphasis that is slightly shifted. The first phrase is about "my dad who is on the trip" while the second one is more of "me having my dad on the trip".

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